Sansa sighed and pulled away from Sandor, sweat gluing strands of hair to her forehead. Sandor’s chest moved up and down as he breathed heavily, spent by the passion that had overtaken them. The sheets lay tangled and forgotten at the foot of the bed.
As much as Sansa cherished their lovemaking, she also enjoyed the moments afterwards. She murmured sweet nothings into Sandor’s ear, while he let his warm touch to do his talking. Sometimes they spoke about intimate matters; those that were too sensitive to be addressed in the light of day. This night Sansa had one such topic in mind.
“I have received yet another proposal of marriage, of which I haven’t told you until now. It was a roundabout offer, not made directly by the man in question.” Sansa wanted to make sure Sandor understood it had not been Jaime’s own initiative.
“By some pathetic gnat, not brave enough to make his own bid? Did his mother ask for your assent on his behalf?” grumbled Sandor, pulling Sansa closer. He turned onto his left side so that Sansa was completely trapped under his right arm and leg, her head resting against his left shoulder. The lingering sweat on her body caught the chill of the room and she shivered.
Initially Sandor had become sullen and withdrawn whenever talk turned to Sansa’s suitors, but gradually he had softened his stance. He didn’t like it and he hated the lords, near or far, who approached Sansa with their proposals. Yet Sansa knew him to be far too pragmatic to pretend that the matter would disappear if he ignored it.
“Everyone expects me to get married sooner rather than later. My annulment has opened the floodgates; you know that as well as I do.”
“I do, little bird. If they come from all across the realm, why couldn’t you marry some buggering old lord from across the sea, whom you would never have to even meet?”
“And if I carried a babe, wouldn’t that be just a bit too unbelievable? A babe is what this all comes down to. An heir for House Stark.”
“A babe…” Sandor’s voice sounded muffled. He never approached the subject, but the way he sometimes slid his palm across Sansa’s belly and stared at it told her that the subject was not new to him.
Sansa braced herself for what she needed to say by tensing slightly.
“Tyrion suggested the marriage. He and the king and queen think they might have found me a good match. A nobleman who is not from the North and has no ambition to pursue his own agenda through my claim.”
“Aye, and who’s that? The old cripple, Prince Doran?” Sandor spoke against the crown of her head, his right hand travelling down Sansa’s side, across her stomach and hip. His was not a touch meant to provoke her desire - this time - but one for his enjoyment. For him to feel Sansa’s soft skin, her womanly curves and her warmth. Sansa loved the heavy press of his palm on her body and sometimes wondered how a hard man like Sandor could enjoy such an unassuming thing so greatly.
Sometimes Sansa felt as if she was trying to tame a beast; one driven by instincts and focussing on survival. Unpredictable and cruel when needed, but without guile or treachery, like nature itself. A beast who had been kicked too many times and distrusted everyone, but still had the dignity that only wild animals possess, knowing its own true worth. That such a creature allowed her to pet him made her grateful in the strangest way.
Sansa drew her breath. “Jaime,” she exhaled, then stilled, waiting for Sandor’s reaction. He lifted his head and peered at Sansa with poorly hidden disbelief on his face.
“Yes, our Jaime.”
“Did you hear this from Tyrion, or from Jaime?”
“Tyrion wrote about it in his letter, assuming Jaime had already proposed. He hadn’t, after finding out about us…” Sansa’s voice trailed away. She knew Sandor would never unleash his anger on her as he had done a long, long time ago. Still she didn’t want to see him withdraw into his own world again and shut her out, as he was prone to do if something troubled him. Not that it happened often – but if ever there was a situation that might trigger it, this must be it.
To her surprise Sandor only looked at her, his expression betraying nothing but silent contemplation. Sansa wondered how long it would take for her to truly know him. How could he sometimes be so tender, the next moment ruthless, the next pragmatic? She swore she would never stop trying to understand, or being fascinated by this complex man resting next to her.
Finally Sandor spoke. “What did he say; does he want to marry you?”
Sansa raised her hand to touch his face. Scarred or unblemished skin, it mattered naught to her now.
“He said he was not going to even mention it, not after he learned what there is between you and me. Nonetheless, I have to give my answer to the king and queen when they arrive.”
“That was not the answer to my question, little bird.” His voice was flat, with just a hint of irritation in it.
“He said that he would have cherished and respected me, and not lorded over me. That it might have worked. That he might not be what I deserve in a husband, but he might be better than some others.”
Sandor turned on his back, releasing Sansa from his grip. He stared at the ceiling and Sansa saw his brow furrow.
“What about the Dragons, do they insist on this?”
“Jaime advised I should tell them that I am not ready to marry another Lannister. He thought I could still have some more time before I have to make my decision.” Sansa snuggled against him, wanting to dispel the frown on his face. Yet she knew she had to tell him everything.
“There is more,” she whispered.
“Hells, what next? Tyrion changed his mind and wants you back?” Sandor barked.
“No…and you are wrong in judging him so harshly. He has been nothing but good to us; to me, to Jaime and to the North. He doesn’t deserve your dislike.”
Sandor harrumphed, but didn’t interrupt her.
“King Aegon is in need of a bride. He wants to marry a Westerosi lady of high birth to forge new alliances. Tyrion wrote that he is considering me as his betrothed and has that in mind for his visit.”
There was no mistaking it now; Sandor was angry. Not at her, but at the whole world which seemed intent on disturbing and destroying their little world.
“King Aegon? You to become queen? I thought that was no longer your wish!”
“It is not! I would never accede to that and leave the North again, but this complicates things. If he takes a liking to me and proposes, turning him down could be politically risky.”
“What do you mean, if he takes a liking? Bloody hells, woman, any man only has to glance at you and they will be trapped; hook, line and stone. Why can’t that dragonspawn marry his aunt, isn’t that what Targaryens are so good at?”
Sansa wasn’t deterred by Sandor’s ranting. “She is apparently barren, and their house needs an heir even more than mine. Forming bonds of kinship between noble houses is important as well. I will never accept his proposal, should it come to that. I would rather face a war again.” Sansa knew she couldn’t contemplate that prospect, but surely there was something she could do to avoid Aegon’s attentions?
Her mind calmed as she thought of the challenge ahead. She had found a way out of worse, and with her two companions by her side, they’d find a solution.
“We can think about this later. Let’s talk about something else. Or better still, let’s not talk.” Sansa shimmied closer to Sandor, who had closed his eyes and exhaled a ragged breath, seemingly accepting Sansa’s suggestion.
Since Jaime had returned, Sandor had continued to come to her rooms as before, as often as possible. Only on some nights did his duties or the expectations of others keep him away. Yet the last few evenings Sansa had seen him restless in a way he hadn’t been before. A few times she caught him distracted, contemplating something only he knew. He could be holding her, next to her in body, but the faraway look on his face revealed his mind was somewhere else.
She urged Sandor to turn onto his stomach and started to stroke his back with her hands, determined to banish the unsettling thoughts from his mind. She tried to press as hard as she could, in the way Sandor had showed her, but her feeble attempts didn’t do much against the solid mass of his muscles. Sansa saw him close his eyes in response to her touch and felt him relax under her hands.
This is how Jaime must have touched him, she realised. Does he miss it? On a whim she leaned into his ear and whispered, “You can go to him. I don’t mind.”
Sandor opened his eyes and turned to stare at her. “What the hells are you talking about, little bird?”
Sansa felt hesitant, but the flash of insight she had just gained forced her to continue. Her words came out as a whisper.
“You can go to Jaime, I don’t mind. I know you miss his company.”
Sandor scooped her into his arms and pressed his face against her hair. “I miss only your company. Why would I want to waste time in the presence of the Kingslayer when I can have you?”
Sansa accepted his words and pulled him closer, all the while knowing that she had seen it true.
The next day Sandor asked her if she would mind if he came to her later. Sansa agreed readily, guessing where – to whom - he would go. A tiny flicker of doubt entered her mind, but she admonished herself soon enough. After all, she had suggested that. Knowing that besides her, Jaime was the only person who had gotten through Sandor’s defences, she accepted that if she truly loved him, she would let him go.
When Sandor came to her later, she didn’t ask him questions. She didn’t have to; she was confident of his love for her, however undeclared it was, and nothing else mattered.
Of all the visitors from the South, Sansa found Ser Jorah Mormont the most intriguing. He had stayed behind when the southern army departed, planning to visit his old home of Bear Island with Queen Daenerys once she arrived.
Excluding Sandor he was the most unusual man Sansa had met. He treated her as an equal to any man, and a leader, unlike most lords. Oh, the others acknowledged her claim, respected her as the daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and spoke of her beauty and her capabilities as a woman. Ser Jorah made no issue of her gender and treated her no differently to any other noble ruler. He was courteous and knightly, but when Sansa talked, he actually listened to her, instead of only feigning interest. Sansa could only conclude that to be due to his long association with Daenerys Targaryen, the woman who had risen from a penniless exile to the queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Jaime had told Sansa about his widely known and seemingly accepted association with the queen. Although Sansa had no reason to doubt Jaime, the first time she saw Ser Jorah she found it difficult to believe. He was a balding, middle-aged man whose face was terribly marked with a crude demon tattoo. He is so ugly! As soon as the thought entered her head, she saw Sandor, on guard in the background as a sworn shield should be, and felt a twinge of shame. The realisation that the young queen could love a man like Ser Jorah made Sansa consider her in a completely new light.
So far she had seen the pending royal visit only as the final hurdle on the road towards peace in the North. Now she found herself curious about her sovereigns. What was the young queen really like? Would they have anything in common – besides kin killed in a cruel war, youth spent under the control of others and a difficult journey to be acknowledged as the head of their houses? And a hideously marred lover?
To her delight, even Sandor seemed to approve of Ser Jorah, and the two were often seen discussing different weapons and practices of war in the foreign kingdoms.
Sansa spent several afternoons with her new friend, who told her about exotic lands across the sea and answered her questions about the queen and king. When Ser Jorah spoke of his queen, his features softened and Sansa caught a glimpse of what Daenerys might see in him.
Sansa had specific reasons for her queries, wanting to get insight into what kind of a man Aegon was. Was he the type to take offense if rejected; was he known to bear grudges? Sansa didn’t want to think of him as a man she may have to marry – only as a threat to be thwarted. To her relief all Ser Jorah told her painted a picture of a reasonable young man, wise beyond his years. Not a spoiled brat like Joffrey had been, raised to privilege without ever having to earn it, but another exile making his way back to his heritage through patience, cunning and the support of those still loyal to his house.
Sansa started to feel better about her chances of avoiding another cursed betrothal with the royal house.
Ser Jorah also knew about Brienne’s quest in Braavos and had worked with Jaime in King’s Landing to expand her search with the help of the Iron Throne.
Jaime related to Sansa and Sandor what they had done, laughing that although he recognised his limitations in political strategies, he knew a thing or two about hunting and battle tactics. If a hunter had difficulties locating his quarry, rather than wasting time and effort in trying to rush after elusive beasts, it was better to trap them. Likewise, wars were lost if spent in wandering the countryside in search of an enemy. That was foolish – it was much better to entice a foe to exactly where you wanted them to be.
With that in mind he had come up with a plan for Brienne. Assisted by some local contacts, supplied by Ser Jorah, Brienne was to lure Arya to find her, rather than the other way around.
Jaime had sent drawings of the Stark direwolf sigil to Braavos, and Brienne was to turn them into a stamp in a workshop specialising in printing colours and shapes on fabric. The stamp was to contain a direwolf silhouette and the word NYMERIA, another stamp bearing a simple arrow alone. Brienne was then to go around in Braavos and paint those images on the walls of buildings, fences and rock-faces, arrows pointing to where she wanted Arya to come.
The direwolf itself had been slightly modified, but still clearly recognisable to anyone familiar with the Stark sigil. Jaime had chosen NYMERIA, as anything directly related to the Starks or Arya might alert undesired interest. For most people Nymeria meant the legendary warrior queen of the Rhoyne, but Jaime knew the word to have a special meaning to Arya, evoking memories of her lost direwolf. A wall drawing of a wolf and the name of a legendary figure from the past was unlikely to raise suspicions, being dismissed only as the idle scribblings of restless youths, common in such a big city.
Soon after Jaime’s return to Winterfell he had received a message from Brienne confirming she had done as planned. She had established her headquarters at an inn near the harbour and painted hundreds of signs all over the city; in poorer areas and in palatial neighbourhoods, in the markets, near training yards, whorehouses, religious buildings…everywhere. All of them pointed an arrow towards her inn. She had instructed the innkeeper and his staff to send anyone coming to ask about the signs to her.
Then Brienne had settled down to wait, while still continuing to follow any promising leads she heard. Yet she always returned to the inn to see if her trap had worked.
She wrote to Jaime in astonishment that the Braavosi seemed to be strangely fascinated by her. They approached her in the streets, followed her around, and when she was sitting in the common room, tried to join her. Her blond hair, freckles and bright blue eyes seemed to captivate men as they had never done in Westeros. To add to her puzzlement, her admirers didn’t seem to mind her size, her manly manners or even her habit of dressing in men’s clothes and carrying a sword. If anything, that seemed to turn them on even more.
In an aside she mentioned that some women seemed to behave in the same bizarre fashion, following her and seeking her company. As Jaime related that part of her letter to Sansa and Sandor, he laughed so hard that he had tears in his eyes. Sansa giggled as well, slightly embarrassed, but clearly grasping the joke as well as Jaime. Only Sandor was left frowning, looking at his companions with a perplexed expression. After that, there was no end to Jaime’s mirth, and he only stopped when he was hoarse and wheezing from lack of breath.
To Sandor’s indignant curses of how he didn’t see anything particularly funny about the situation, both Jaime and Sansa only shook their heads, trying to soothe Sandor’s flaring temper.
Later, in the privacy of their bed, Sansa told Sandor how there were women who were drawn to members of their own sex, just like men. She had heard whispers of such in the Vale, the ears of bastard daughters hearing more than those of a highborn girl.
Sandor was dumbfounded. What in the seven hells did women do? he asked. He understood men, as a man could be used as a woman, but it didn’t make any sense to him how a woman could act like a man. Gently Sansa had to remind him how often he had satisfied her by means other than using his manhood; with his hands, his mouth, his tongue… For some women that was enough, she told him breathlessly, thrilled to be able to tell him something of the ways of the world for once.
Sandor considered that for a long time, but eventually acknowledged that it might be so. Then they laughed together at poor Brienne, unlikely to have any knowledge of such matters. They didn’t laugh with malice, but with affection. Sansa felt true warmth towards the large warrior woman whom she had met only for a brief time. She sincerely hoped Brienne would be successful in her quest and come to Winterfell soon, so she could learn to know her better.
Jul. 29th, 2013